Angie's LIST Guide to
Dog training

You may consider your dog part of the family, but dogs and humans have different needs and ways of communicating. Taking time to understand and train your dog can make for a more satisfying relationship.


Dog training can be basic or advanced, and can be accomplished in a group or individual setting. Here, a large group of dogs lay politely while their owners stand by. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Elaine T.)
Dog training can be basic or advanced, and can be accomplished in a group or individual setting. Here, a large group of dogs lay politely while their owners stand by. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Elaine T.)

3 things to know about dogs

Dogs don’t understand English, and their humans will be able to communicate more effectively with them if they understand some basics, say experienced dog trainers:

  • Your dog is a pack animal, and will be more relaxed and less prone to problem behavior if it’s sure you’re the pack leader. Your job is to provide for your dog’s basic needs, define a clear structure with boundaries, supply attention and affection and protect your pet from harm.
  • Be aware of your body language and how you use eye contact, since these are ways dogs determine your intentions.
  • Dogs learn by repetition, and don’t generalize, so be clear about what you want and consistent in how you respond.

For more information, read "Teach your dog who's boss at home," written by a highly trained dog trainer.

Basics about dog training

Dog training styles range from reward-based to military-style approaches. Classes may be taught in groups or individual sessions, at a facility or the owner’s home.

This four-month-old puppy learned basic commands through an obedience program. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Stuart G.)

Some professionals offer “boarding training,” in which a dog spends days or weeks at the facility, being trained, and the owner is later shown how to continue what was taught.

Costs vary widely, with hourly rates, as well as multi-class packages, available.

Training can have many objectives: socializing puppies, basic to advanced obedience, Canine Good Citizen certification, ability to do service work, or to compete in agility or other dog sport.

Training methods may focus on gestures, body language and voice tone, or may be reward-based, with treats or praise, or may include electronic collars or other correction tools.

Why hire a dog trainer?

Unwanted dog behavior can be more than annoying. Many of the 8 million pets taken in by U.S. shelters each year are abandoned because of behavior issues, and many end up euthanized, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

Training a dog to respond to basic commands, such as “come,” “sit” and “stay,” can help prevent problems and make living with a pet more enjoyable. But experts say it’s important to first consult a veterinarian, to rule out a physical cause for behavior issues.

Angie's List can help you find a highly rated dog trainer in your area. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Claudia T.)

There are many books and resources to guide you in training your pet, but highly rated trainers say benefits of working with a professional include:

  • Help in working through the frustration that can arise during training sessions.
  • Maximizing results for busy people.
  • Specific ideas based on years of experience.

Tips for hiring a dog trainer:

  • States don’t require that dog trainers be licensed, so ask about the trainer’s education, credentials and experience. Consider a trainer who’s a member of a professional organization, such as the Association of Pet Dog Trainers or the Association of Canine Professionals.
  • Ask your vet for recommendations. Read reviews on Angie’s List. Seek and contact references, asking clients what their dog learned and in what time frame.
  • Interview potential trainers, asking for details about their training approach and techniques. Check into the differences in pace and expectations between individual and group instruction. Observe a class to make sure you agree with a trainer’s approach before paying. Also, ask for a money-back guarantee.
  • Make sure you hire a trainer who asks for your dog’s health records, to reduce the chance of disease spreading.

For more information, read "Behaviorists help pets with problems."

Dogs and training, by the numbers

11: percentage of dog owners who sought professional training in 2010.

5 top dog behavior problems trainers can fix: barking, destruction, jumping up, running away despite being called, pulling hard on a leash.

$448: average cost Angie’s List members report paying for training. The American Kennel Club advises people to prepare to spend $340 for initial training and supplies and $254 a year for ongoing training.

1 to 2: recommended number of dog training lessons each week, which research indicates leads to faster learning than daily sessions.

8: average number of weeks it takes to change established behavior problems.

1.2: dog intelligence as measured by the Encephalization Quotient, the ratio of actual brain mass to predicted brain mass for an animal’s size. (Cats have an EQ of 1.0; humans, between 7.4 and 7.8.)

$96,630: average annual wage of animal trainers in the movie industry, compared with $20,150 for trainers who work in retail stores.

Sources: Guinness World Records; Journal of Veterinary Behavior; Trends in Cognitive Sciences; Tufts University Animal Behavior Clinic; International Journal of Comparative Psychology; Bureau of Labor Statistics; American Kennel Club; Applied Animal Behavior Science; American Pet Products Association; American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.

Training tips from pet pros

Highly rated dog trainers from around the United States offer their advice:

Regular exercise - such as daily walks - can help keep your pet's behavior in check. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Rosemarie W.)

  • Consider six ingredients of successful training: consistency, repetition, correction, praise, patience and – possibly most important -- humor.
  • Always follow through with whatever you’re asking the dog to do. Don’t repeat commands. If the dog isn't listening, add in a hand signal, or move in closer.
  • Be aware of your emotions and energy level; these directly affect your dog. Notice your voice inflection. Say “come” in a positive tone.
  • With housebreaking, remember that if you control what goes into the dog and when, you can control what comes out and when.
  • Keep training sessions short and positive. If progress lags, take a break and play.
  • Only pet your dog when you see desired behavior you want.
  • Figure out what your dog values most and make him work for them. For example, if your dog likes to play ball, make him sit before you throw the ball. Also, meal time is a good time to train. Feed the dog piece by piece as you teach something.
  • Regularly walk and exercise your dog.
  • If you're planning a family, put your rules for your dog in place before the child arrives.
  • Remember that an old dog can learn new tricks, though it may take longer than with a young one.

3 tips from Angie's List founder

Some of what Angie Hicks, founder of Angie’s List, learned when she sent her yellow Lab to dog training camp:

  • Don’t use “no” as a command, especially in a house with small children where the word might frequently be heard. Use specific command words.
  • If the dog doesn’t respond to a command the first time, don’t just repeat it. Dogs may try to see what they can get away with. Instead of issuing the command again, use a disciplinary term that lets the pup know you mean business.
  • Dog owners must remain committed to training. A quality trainer can get you on the right track, but if you don’t reinforce the good habits, they’ll likely return.

For more information, read "Pet training refines our 'Marley.'"



looking for a reasonable dog trainer in my neighborhood.

Hi Leslie, If you're looking for a dog trainer near you, click here to get started: Be sure to use promo code "ANSWERS" for a 20% discount valid towards an annual membership!

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